The Commonwealth of Notions is a reaction to the idea that good music is dead in the city of Richmond.
So starts the description of Shannon Cleary’s radio show on WRIR’s site, and every time I see that sentence, its meaning changes a little.
One more Commonwealth of Notions Presents memory from last Friday — Lightfields covering Archers of Loaf’s “Web In Front,” with a vocal assist from festival organizer and Clair Morgan bassist Shannon Cleary.
This was fun.
Music is full of little miracles that are easy to overlook. One of the most fundamental is the fractured nature of performing as part of a band.
When you’re at your favorite venue, hearing familiar songs come out of a few, huge speakers, it’s easy to process it all as one thing, and to forget that the parts of that whole are the result of individual human beings putting into motion an unfathomable number of neural pathways and muscle groups in just the right order, at just the right time. It’s what makes being in a band so frustrating and so rewarding. When you get up on stage to perform with other people, you’re on a tightrope together, and the gravitational pull of chaos never abates. The universe does not want to be as ordered as you’re forcing it to be when you play a song.
After spending a few days thinking about why I so enjoyed seeing Clair Morgan at Strange Matter on Friday night, I’ve decided it has something to do with the remarkable way they walked that tightrope, and the daring way the band’s frontman and namesake (“Clair Morgan is and is not a band,” as the t-shirt I bought at the show explains) courts chaos, making the walk all the more thrilling.
Good ideas can’t be contained. They expand to fit people’s appreciation of them, and Shannon Cleary’s notion that Richmond’s music scene deserves a weekend of celebration and acknowledgment is a great example. We’re nearing the fourth edition of the WRIR and the Commonwealth of Notions Presents festival, and Cleary has outdone himself yet again, putting together a winning lineup of bands that will showcase the depth and breadth of Richmond’s musical talent over the course of four gloriously noisy days.
With the start of the festivities set for this Thursday, I asked Cleary a few questions about what goes into planning for the event and how this year’s festivities are shaping up.
I can remember the first time I got a recording of a show I’d just witnessed. It was while I was in college — Soulive at the Canal Club. I almost didn’t go — I wasn’t the biggest fan and agreed to go at the last minute, but I loved it. Looking back, as jammy as Soulive may be, that show represented a significant step in my quest to access jazz. I couldn’t believe the dexterity of keys player Neal Evans, who was pulling double-duty by playing synth bass with his left hand. I’ve since learned that this is typical for Soulive, but it seemed incredible to me. I stared at Evans for large chunks of each song, totally awestruck. Focusing on a single player like that has become one of my main techniques for appreciating genres I’m less familiar with, and it worked wonders at that show.
They had CD burners at the merch table, and you could buy a two-disc recording on your way out. $15 bucks, I think. Easy as that. I know (and knew then) that people have been taping shows and trading recordings for ages, but it felt like the future to me. You heard something, then you had it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that night was the dividing line between two worlds — the world in which I watched and listened to live music without worrying whether I’d see or hear it again, and the world I live in now, wherein I consciously ask myself whether I’m seeing/hearing this concert for the first time or for the last time. I process performances differently if it’s the latter. I try to be more present.
“Where we go I don’t know but I’m not scared of that hole.”
— Lobo Marino
Well hot damn. WRIR and The Commonwealth of Notions Presents: Volume 3 kicks off tomorrow, and I thought I’d check in quickly before the whole shindig begins.